Colorado Springs City Council doesn't expect to vote Tuesday on a measure to make masks mandatory after hearing from business representatives who pushed the board to act.
Several council members opposed an ordinance, saying the potential penalties -- including jail time -- are too strict and they have not heard from El Paso County Public Health officials. Additionally, they said an ordinance could be difficult to enforce and they do not see a medical need for it because the number of residents dying and needing hospitalization because of coronavirus remain low.
"It’s not ready and certainly taking action without even hearing from the health department would be nonsensical," Councilman Wayne Williams said of the proposed ordinance.
Council members agreed that if health officials made a strong case for an ordinance to require masks they could quickly call a special meeting to vote on a mandate. Without it, the council expects to discuss a revised mandatory mask ordinance at its next work session in two weeks.
The proposed ordinance would require residents to wear masks in any city building, public transit, including buses, taxis and ride-sharing services, any common area of an apartment building or condo, any enclosed area, including retail businesses where the public is invited and more than one household is present. The draft also states masks would be required in public indoor and outdoor area where residents cannot maintain six feet of separation, among other areas. At restaurants, customers would have to be masked unless they are eating and drinking, according to the draft.
A small group of protesters opposed to wearing masks rallied outside City Hall as the council met.
Other Colorado cities with mask mandates include Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Six of the most populous counties in the state also have mask mandates.
The council considered the ordinance at the request of area business representatives who said they are concerned the state could revoke some of the variances El Paso County has been granted that allow businesses to maintain greater levels of activity that the state permits.
For example, the state could decrease the number of people allowed at restaurants, gyms, museums, and other venues if the percentage of residents testing positive for the virus and the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks does not come down, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Business leaders at the meeting said they feared if the disease continued to spread it could lead to state orders to shut down some operations.
A second shutdown could be devastating, said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership.
"I would hate to have to tell a business, 'I wish we had to done something when we had a chance to turn the tide,' " Edmondson said.
An ordinance would allow business owners to make the case to customers and tourists that they must wear a mask and that it is not just the individual business owner's request, said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corp. Some businesses owners have faced confrontations with customers who do not want to wear masks, he said, but those people may not want to break the law and face consequences if there was a citywide mandate.
"It keeps the honest people honest," he said.
El Paso County Public Health data shows new cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks has continued to rise in recent days and reached 107 new cases per 100,000 residents Monday. The percentage of residents testing positive on average over two weeks is 7%, up from about 3% when the state granted the county variance in June.
UCHealth staff are caring for about 30 patients who are either hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, or are hospitalized awaiting test results, health system spokeswoman Cary Vogrin said.
"We are seeing a seven-day trend of increasing hospitalizations," she said. "In early June, we had fewer than a half-dozen patients with COVID-19 in our hospitals in southern Colorado."
But Williams noted the disease is spreading mostly among younger, healthier people and passing an ordinance would be blessing the strict approach Gov. Jared Polis has taken to managing the pandemic.
Williams proposed a compromise ordinance that would give individual businesses the right to choose whether to require masks and then provide consequences if residents did not comply. It was unclear Monday if a majority of councilors supported his proposal.
The Gazette's Jessica Snouwaert contributed to this report.